PCT Planning Update

Alright, since we last talked about planning I have accomplished a number of tasks and began to formulate some new plans.  In this post I am going to touch on the following topics:

  • Start date
  • Wilderness First Responder course
  • Yogi’s book review (in conjunction with Halfmile’s maps)
  • Craig’s PCT Planner
  • Mail Drops
  • What is next?

Start Date

To start with we have chosen a start date! After much debate we have decided to start around April 18th, 2016!  A couple of things went into this date.  First of all, there was timing our start with my brother’s graduation.  If you remember from my post #Startgate: Decisions, decisions... my brother is graduating from college May 7th and we want to be there.  This forces us to either start before that date, leave trail to go to graduation and then come back, OR start right afterwards.  Both options have their own challenges, but after exploring both options we decided it was better to be safe than sorry so we are starting early.  The challenges with starting early, after having done the math on Craig’s PCT Planner (more on this later) is that we are going to have to take it pretty slow and spend quite a bit of time off trail for graduation in order to time our arrival to Kennedy Meadows correctly.  Remember, you don’t want to get to Kennedy Meadows before June 10th (snow year dependent) so that will be our challenge with starting early.  As it is Craig’s PCT Planner has us arriving in Kennedy Meadows June 8th which is a tad early.  I think our best bet is to come up with flexible plans for this time (maybe we hike 200 miles or so in Northern California?) and then just see what happens when we are on trail.

The other big factor that helped us with our decision was looking into Wilderness First Responder courses.  I took a WFR course two years ago so I simply have to renew mine which involves a short weekend course.  Kyle on the other hand is planning on taking the full week-long course and the best timed one available is in Idaho, April 5th through the 15th.  Currently our plan is for him to drive out, take the course, drive home and we will leave the next day.  While he is gone taking the course I will be prepping the last of our maildrops and making sure everything is ready to go!

Now you will notice that I said around April 18th.  That is because it is hard to set a start date in stone before we apply for our permit.  From what I understand you have to apply for the date you want and then see what happens… I don’t actually know what happens if you don’t get the date you apply for, if they suggest earlier or later dates.  Because we have already applied for our WFR courses we would probably have to accept a later date, which isn’t the end of the world for us.  Hopefully everything goes smoothly with permitting, which opens in February.  Until then, fingers crossed.

Wilderness First Responder Course

I already mentioned above that WFR courses or, at least, recertification courses are in our futures, but I just want to put a plug in for them.  They are amazing.  I took my last course through Wilderness Medical Associates and it was beyond valuable.  On the AT it would have been overkill, but for the PCT and even just the hiking and climbing we do in Washington I feel that it is necessary.  Instead of attempting to train you about every medical condition under the sun and how to treat them it teaches you decision-making.  It helps you to feel confident deciding when something is a minor vs major concern and what to do about it.  The course itself puts you into “real life” scenarios that are of course staged but feel and seem like the real deal.  You do hands on practice every day with very little classroom time.  I highly recommend that everyone who is thinking of attempting something like the PCT look into a course like this.  And a WFA course won’t cut it, the WFR is really the only way to go.  I also think that instead of doing a recertification course retaking the course every two years would be more valuable.  However, for us money is a huge factor and we can’t afford for both of us to take the full course.  So for me a recertification course will have to do for now.

Yogi’s Book Review

By now both Kyle and I have read Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook.  I thought it held a lot of very valuable information.  She isn’t the only one sharing her opinion either, she has a number of other hikers with impressive resumes that chime in on each subject.  This is helpful, although sometimes infuriating.  Everyone has different opinions about how things should be done and sometimes it can be overwhelming.  But overall it is a great book and I will do a more thorough review of it in a separate post.  For now I will say that it allowed us to break into planning and has a lot of great information on towns and resupply options.  The second half of the book you actually rip out and split up to be sent to your on trail.  These pages have very specific information about water sources, reroutes, camping options, towns, resupply, things to watch out for, hitch hiking… the list goes on.  The only frustrating thing about these pages is that they no longer match up with Half Mile’s maps. I gather that they match up with last years maps, but I ordered the newest maps so no go.  I don’t think Yogi is going to come out with a newer book before we leave so I had to create a very confusing system to help myself remember to keep pages from previous drops for the next set of maps. Hopefully it works out on trail. If not we will have aps and phones and all sorts of other devices, not to mention at some point people hiked this trail with no help from Yogi at all, so I think we will manage.  Most importantly, this part of the planning has made me realize how much more logistically challenging the PCT is.  This is no walk in the woods.

Craig’s PCT Planner

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After twisting Kyle’s arm and making him read Yogi’s book we were ready to sit down and fill in Craig’s PCT Planner.  You seriously have to check this out if you haven’t yet.  You start by entering your start date, pace, and number of hours hiked a day.  With this basic information as your baseline you begin to select towns that you will be stopping in on the left side bar, and then the program adjusts your plan on the right, recalculating where you will be when.  As you can see above the program breaks your trip down in to sections between the towns you have chosen to stop in, and tells you how many days you will spend hiking between towns.  It also allows to you to add miles on trail (if you want to do a side trip like Mt Whitney), you can add notes for yourself in town, you can add zero days, and speed up or slow down your average pace.  It is brilliant.  Once you are on trail you can check in with the program, and it will continue to recalculate your dates and distances as you go.  Kyle and I sat down with Yogi’s spread sheet of town information and basically went through, choosing which towns seemed like good places to stop, considering how many days we wanted to be out and how easy the towns are to access from the trail.  We then decided whether we wanted to resupply in town or receive a mail drop, determined by the mail drop options and grocery store options in each town.  Obviously this plan isn’t set in stone, we will most likely move faster than our set average and things will shift and shorten, but it is a really wonderful way to get a base estimate of your trip and to have a general idea of where you will be when.

Mail Drops

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Thanks to Craig’s PCT Planner we were able to estimate the number of food drops we would need and how many days of food each food drop will hold.  Using this information I created a couple of different charts.  We have five six-day food drops, eleven five-day food drops, and five seven-day food drops.  I made tables like the one above, and filled in breakfast and dinner, allowing us to create a master shopping list for the next five months.  Kyle and I also had quite a bit of fun planning 95 dinners and the diversity of what we will be eating is incredible compared to the AT.  Although we will still be having Mac and Cheese at least once a week…

What’s next?

Next we get down to business.  I am still compiling our master shopping list, but starting this week with cuban beans and rice we are beginning to dehydrate dinners for the trip.  As I chip away at the food I will use my handy-dandy spread sheet to mark off things I have accomplished.  Our goal is to absorb most of the food costs into our weekly grocery bill by making extra dinner and dehydrating it.  Next week we will eat split pea soup for dinner and dehydrate the other half for trail meals.  And so it continues.  Stay tuned for more!

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5 thoughts on “PCT Planning Update

  1. This series of posts is turning into an incredible resource for people considering the PCT – really, excellent posts.

  2. You guys have got this. Don’t worry too much about the start date. I applied for a date when the permits were open but started 2 days earlier, many hikers in 2015 were the same.

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